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Apr. 23 2009 - 8:52 am | 157 views | 5 recommendations | 40 comments

I am the news today, oh boy: A recession writer gets laid off

Chicago Tribune building

On Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune laid off 50-some editorial staff writers, including myself. This places me, a journalist of 20 years experience, in the uncomfortable position of being the news (in some small part) instead of covering it.

Yet beneath a statistic that can tell the story about as well as a toddler pooping his pants, other realities exist that must and will get explored. Like: The Chicago Tribune Company petitioning a bankruptcy court at the same time to award $13 million in bonuses to people very much unlike me and my displaced colleagues, folks who make their living and buy yacht club berths off the sweat of our collective labors.

There was the extremely disingenuous memo sent out by senior editorial staff, which talked about positioning the newsroom for the future. The lede, as they say, was buried–read paragraphs down and you’ll see that the Tribune is trying to deal with the worst economy since the Great Depression. Really? No news there. The real news is that the Tribune now soldiers on without an art critic (as the Art Institute is weeks away from opening the biggest addition in its modern history). It loses gifted people like Lilah Lohr, the best word editor in the entire features operation, and Pat Reardon, an unsurpassed veteran who combines institutional memory with the productivity of a hungry, 25-year-old rookie. Robert K. Elder may not be a senior veteran, but he was by byline count the most productive writer in all of features, a newsroom force.

Yet for me, the cruelest cut of all comes in losing my job while covering, at management’s request, the recession by telling my personal story of family finances. “The Recession Diaries” blog was a beat I did not want nor ask for, and it involved me telling very tough stories about my own family finances–stories that led me and my wife to squabble many times over which details to withhold, which to print, and which ones looked inappropriate in print after the fact.

I wanted to post a final blog Wednesday to readers explaining that I had lost my job, a victim of the very recession I covered. I posted this without management’s approval. I then informed management. Management took it down.

[Editor's note: Lou has added the blog post in a subsequent entry. Click here to read it.]

That’s not my loss, it is the reader’s loss. As many emails attest, I was becoming a friend, a confidant, a trusted voice to thousands of hurting people. And in one swipe yesterday, the Chicago Tribune took that away from them without any explanation. It explains in no small part why the Tribune is losing readers like a trauma victim loses blood and internal organs.

It’s also why I now feel at least partially vindicated to devote more attention to True/Slant, an enterprise that represents the exciting and bold future of what news and commentary can be. Sad as I am, I waste no time getting back to work, the work of my life that I love, and to serve a group of readers that help me participate in a bold experiment.

Let’s hope and pray that it works beyond our wildest dreams.


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4 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 40 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Sorry to hear about your layoff, Lou. That really sucks. But I’m looking forward to reading more of your work here.

  2. collapse expand

    Wow, I cannot believe they asked you to cover the recession from a personal perspective and then didn’t allow you to write about being laid off. That speaks so sadly to the demise of the newspaper. I think you need to change the name of your T/S blog to “Recession Diaries” and keep on going. I am hereby following you in support and hope that your Recession Diaries become a great book that makes you a tidy sum; if the Chicago Tribune still has a book critic, maybe they’ll review it one day and you’ll get the last laugh.

  3. collapse expand

    Smart move on their part, taking down your final blog post. Don’t want to put anything up that might attract an audience. Also don’t want to appear sensitive or empathetic to long-time employees you’ve just cut from the payroll. Very relieved to see the Chicago Tribune maintains the rock solid judgment that will surely guide them through this crippling economic climate and, more specifically, the crushing decline of the newspaper industry.

  4. collapse expand

    Thanks for sharing this, Lou. Sorry about your personal loss, and wish you the best. Important to remember this is playing out all over America. At my old place, they had department managers go through the painful process of laying off their workers bit by bit, only to turn around and then tell those managers they were were now welcome to pack up and go, too, now that they had helpfully done six months to a year of the dirty work.

  5. collapse expand

    Sorry to hear about that, Lou. I hope those $13M bastards buy some nice 1000 thread count sheets to help them sleep at night. I wouldn’t be able to, myself.

    Anyway, keep writing here, and I’ll keep reading.

  6. collapse expand

    Would love to see your final Trib post here at T/S.

  7. collapse expand

    With the CST not looking good either, looks like Chicago could be paperless soon.

    This is sad news, because of the two, at least the Tribune had some class.

  8. collapse expand

    Sorry to hear that my man. As someone who hasn’t been paid for more than a month, I begrudgingly welcome you to the club.

  9. collapse expand

    Lou, Please, yes, post your final Trib post here. I am so sorry this happened to you. There’s definitely a book here. Good luck.

  10. collapse expand

    Lou…I was so sorry to hear about this. This industry, I swear! Hang in there…I know you’re going to be fab in whatever you do next.


  11. collapse expand

    No more crocodile tears for the dying newspaper industry. Yes, please put up your final post on T/S! Great post, terrible luck, Lou.

  12. collapse expand

    Lou, this is tough news. Hang in there and know that there is a lot of respect, empathy and support out there for you and your colleagues.

  13. collapse expand

    Lou — Sorry to hear the news. The irony doesn’t make it any less painful. But I’m glad you’re part of the T/S family and will still have an outlet — and a growing number of readers and supporters. Would love to see the post Tribune took down posted here…

  14. collapse expand

    Seventh’ed: post the story here. People would love to read it. I know I would.

  15. collapse expand

    As a former Tribunite I am ashamed. I never understand why the newspaper would conduct itself in ways that they would attack in other institutions.

    One should not force employees to revel personal information. If it was Baxter and not the Tribune doing this, the newspaper would take them to task. The same rules should and do apply to them.

    Having said that, Lou wrote a very personal and passionate blog that never hinted at his unwillingness to write it. This is a true lesson in how a journalist should behave. And that makes my former employer’s behavior all the more disturbing. They asked Lou to create a community and, but didn’t believe in that community enough to tell it the truth. They didn’t believe that their readers would understand.

    There are very good people at the Tribune, but newspapers need to stand for something- at one time the was TRUTH.

    Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable. More important today than ever.

  16. collapse expand

    I think I see what True/Slant is becoming: a collective of unemployed, pissed-off career journalists with a hell of a lot left to say. Let us unite. Be afraid, old media. Be very afraid.

  17. collapse expand

    So sorry, Lou, but glad to have you hear. I’m glad to see that, just as it should, your perspective is getting so much attention elsewhere around the web from Consumerist to NPR. Hopefully, something good will cover it.

  18. collapse expand

    Lou, I’m so sorry. Yet, I’m ecstatic over what you’re able to do now without the weight of the Tower around your neck.

    When I read your name among the many others who kept the Tribune respectable (Lilah Lohr, Bob Rowley, Alan Artner, Robert Elder…), I didn’t hesitate to cancel my subscription for good.

    I was at the Goat last night to “comfort the afflicted” with my former Trib colleagues and friends. I experienced the same gut-punch last year when I was cut loose after a decade as a news editor. For newspaper journalists, the pain is more than the loss of a job; It’s being denied your passion. But, as you see already, being cast out of a dying medium is more cause for personal optimism than regret.

    Instead of being constantly disappointed with middleman Tribune’s dwindling quality and relevance, we’ll all be reading and conversing directly with YOU from now on.

    Good luck!

    • collapse expand

      Thanks for your kind words, and to all who have so graciously replied: I have no choice but to move on and prove that when you lose a job, you do not lose the talents, skills and God-given gifts that allowed you to do that job. If there is one message that I hope to get out to people stung by the recession, it’s the one I am learning now: DO NOT CONFUSE WHAT YOU DO FOR A LIVING WITH WHO YOU ARE. Though I attached a great deal of prestige and self-esteem to being a Chicago Tribune staffer, ultimately that’s not who I am. Beyond the newsroom, I’m a husband, father and fairly decent guitarist. And ultimately, I am God’s child, as we all are. That identity will survive every recesssion, every bout with depression and ultimately life itself.

      OK, back to work! :) No wait, I don’t have a job!!! lol

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  19. collapse expand

    Welcome to the club, Lou. Newspapers have been killing themselves for years; they’ve only recently employed new weapons of mass destruction. It used to be about sheer corporate greed. Well, it’s still about money, but now arrogance and an unwillingness to confront cataclysmic change in rational terms — they’ve become the deadly accomplices. As difficult as it has become to exist in that environment, it is even more painful to watch helplessly from the sidelines.

    • collapse expand

      James: SO well put. You should be in charge, not They. And I’ll tell you what pisses me off about They: They are thick and don’t get it. The other day, one of They at the Tribune sent out an email asking staffers to send in their best ideas for making money on the Internet. For which they get what, exactly? A pat on the back? More work? A chance to go to the yacht store with the executive who will make money off the bright idea?

      In the REAL world, the one True/Slant resides in, a guy or gal who comes up with the money-making idea ACTUALLY GETS A CUT OF THE PROCEEDS. Imagine that. The Tribune thinks it can steal great ideas from its writers, already a demoralized lot. The designers of the Hindenburg had more brains and tact.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    I am a former features staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, laid off in late April 2009 even as I was doing my blog called--get this--"The Recession Diaries." I am still the lead popular music critic for Christian Century magazine, a Loyola University Chicago journalism professor, an author, a lover of thin-crust pizza and chocolate truffles. I reside in Chicago and in various states of mania, puzzlement and enlightenment. It's easier for me to explain Meaning of Life than 101 years without a Cubs World Series win.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 120
    Contributor Since: February 2009
    Location:Chicago, steps from Wrigley Field